Carl Seemann (piano)
The Orfeo Recordings
rec. 1952-1979
Mono and stereo
Orfeo C260007 [7 CDs: 454]

This reissue of German pianist Carl Seemann’s live recordings from Orfeo’s rich archive is very welcome indeed. These inscriptions were set down at various locations in Germany and Austria between 1952 and 1979. The format of these re-releases is a set of six jewel cases, with the original documentation, neatly housed in a card slip case.

I’m a great fan of Carl Seemann (1910-1983) and, over the years, have collected many of his recordings. It’s regrettable that outside of Germany he’s largely forgotten. His rather reined-in and unshowy style perhaps contributed to this neglect. A student at the Leipzig Conservatory, he studied organ and piano and initially worked as an organist in his early years before setting on a course to pursue a career as a concert pianist. His repertoire centred on the music of J.S. Bach in addition to the Viennese classics. Yet, he would feature many contemporary works in his concerts.

CDs 1 and 2 are devoted to Bach’s Six Partitas in a live recording from Radio Bremen dated 5-6th June 1965. I found these the least successful of the recordings here. Adjectives like staid, pedestrian and unyielding spring to mind. A perfect example is the Partita No. 1 in B-flat major. A comparison with Dinu Lipatti’s live (Besançon) and studio recordings of the work, both set down in 1950, open the door to a different world. Lipatti marries virtuoso technique with poetic sensibility and emotional projection, very rarely matched in my view. Of the six, No. 3 in A minor is the most profitable. Here Seemann seems truly inspired in terms of poetic expression, with his digital legerdemain guaranteeing lithe articulation when required.

In 1952 the pianist formed a duo with Austrian violinist Wolfgang Schneiderhan. Until 1966  the two performed together many times and made several distinguished recordings, most notably complete Beethoven and Brahms sonata cycles. The recital they gave on CD 3 dates from 15 June 1964. The venue, providing quite a resonant acoustic, is the Schloss Schwetzingen. However, there’s an ideal balance between the two instrumentalists. I admire Schneiderhan’s playing for the beauty of tone he achieves and his consummate musicianship. The Bach has some lovely phrasing in the opening and third movement Adagios, though not quite reaching the exalted heights of Yehudi and Hephzibah Menuhin’s  1934 inscription for HMV. The duo deliver a bold, rhythmically charged finale. In the Beethoven Sonata which follows it’s a pity the players omit the exposition repeat in the first movement. Nevertheless, it’s a very accomplished traversal with Seemann rising to the challenge of the opening movement’s technically demanding piano part with aplomb. They offer a spacious reading of the Schubert, basking in the composer’s unsparing lyricism. They truly bring the music vividly to life. K454 is perhaps Mozart’s best known and best loved violin sonata, where the composer gives more equality to the two instruments than in any of his other works in the genre. The outer movements are upbeat and sunny, with the central Andante ardently expressive and radiating a warm glow.

The first thing to say about the two Mozart Piano Concertos on CD 4 is that the sound quality is first class. Both performances date from the 70s – No. 14 in E flat major, K449 recorded in February 1972 and No. 25 in C major, K503 taped in 1979. The orchestra in both is the NDR Symphony Orchestra, with Leopold Hager directing the former and Wilfried Boettcher at the helm in the latter.  Both conductors, though little known, were by all accounts renowned for their Mozart interpretations. K 503 is the finer work. As befits a magnificent edifice on the grand scale, it receives a magisterial account.  Grandeur and nobility characterize the opening movement, whilst the beguiling slow movement is eloquently contoured.  The Allegretto finale exudes an infectious joie de vivre.

CD 5 is dedicated to Beethoven, the centerpiece being the Second Piano Concerto in which the pianist is partnered by the NDR Symphony Orchestra under the inspirational baton of István Kertész. The opening movement projects a heady mix of lyricism and  drama, and  Seemann’s contribution is to let the music do the speaking. Everything is straight forward with no exaggerations or mannerisms. In the central movement Beethoven pitches the orchestral declamations against the more conciliatory piano line. This leads into a vivacious and high-spirited finale. The early Sonata Op.14 No.1 was recorded in May 1962 and the Op. 126 Bagatelles ten years prior in May 1952. The solo items prove Seemann a fine Beethoven interpreter of sensitivity and sound musicianship.

CD 6 spotlights the Italian cellist Enrico Mainardi. In Bach’s Viola da Gamba Sonata No. 2 in D major, BWV1028 the cellist is accompanied by his fellow compatriot Carlo Zecchi. This 1956 recording derives from Bavarian Radio. The balance favours the pianist unfortunately. The cellist invests a wistful and weeping quality to the opening Adagio. The doleful element is carried forward into the dark third movement Andante. A more positive mood is struck in the playful finale. In Max Reger’s Fourth Cello Sonata, Op. 116 Mainardi teams up with Carl Seemann in a 1973 airing. It’s the composer’s final sonata and certainly the best known of the four. It’s far from an easy listen, yet both performers have a total grasp of its complex structure and perform it with a singularity of vision. On the final track of the disc Mainardi speaks in German of his meeting with Reger in 1913.

The final disc features music by Hindemith and Berg. All three works are performed by the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Paul Hindemith himself. His Symphony in B flat major is vigorous and punchy and ends with an accomplished fugue. The Four Temperaments consist of a theme and four variations. The pianist is Clara Haskil who delivers a characterful, idiomatic and stylish reading. Carl Seemann only makes an appearance in Alban Berg’s Chamber Concerto. It’s a riveting account of a complex and angular score. There’s much going on, yet the tortuous orchestration is marked by clarity and precision.

This valuable release will, hopefully, help raise Carl Seemann’s profile, and prove how versatile a musician he was. The liner notes accompanying each disc are excellent in every way, and there’s a bonus booklet devoted to Seemann himself. All the documentation comes in English and German. The set is well-worth investing in.

Stephen Greenbank

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf (April 2023)

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CD1 and 2
Johann Sebastian Bach
Partitas Nos. 1-6, BWV825-830
Carl Seemann (piano)
rec. June 1965, Sendesaal Radio Bremen

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

Sonata for Violin and Harpsichord No. 3 in E major, BWV1016
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Violin Sonata No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 12 No. 3
Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Grand Duo for Violin and Piano in A Major, D574
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Violin Sonata No. 32 in B flat major, K454
Wolfgang Schneiderhan (violin)
Carl Seemann (piano)
rec. June 1964, Schloss Schwetzingen

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 25 in C major, K503
NDR Symphony Orchestra/Wilfried Boettcher
rec. December 1979, Hamburg
Piano Concerto No. 14 in E flat major, K449
NDR Symphony Orchestra/Leopold Hager
rec. February 1972, Kiel
Carl Seemann (piano)

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 19
NDR Symphony Orchestra/István Kertész
rec. March 1963, Musikhalle Hamburg
Piano Sonata No. 9 in E major, Op. 14 No. 1
rec. May 1962, NDR Studio, Hamburg
Six Bagatelles, Op. 126
rec. May 1952, SDR Studio VI
Carl Seemann (piano)

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Viola da Gamba Sonata No. 2 in D major, BWV1028
Enrico Mainardi (cello)
Carlo Zecchi (piano)
rec. March 1956, Bavarian Radio
Max Reger (1873-1916)
Cello Sonata No.4 in A minor, Op.116
Talk: Enrico Mainardi on his memories of meeting Max Reger in 1913
Enrico Mainardi (cello)
Carl Seemann (piano)
rec. March 1973, Austrian Radio, Landesstudio Salzburg

Paul Hindemith (1895-1963)
Symphony in B flat major
Theme and Variations: “The Four Temperaments”
Alban Berg (1885-1935)
Chamber Concerto
Clara Haskil (piano): The Four Temperaments
Wolfgang Marschner (violin): Carl Seemann (piano)
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Paul Hindemith
rec. October 1959 and October 1955 (The Four Temperaments), Herkukessaal, Munich Residenz